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Artwork Details

earthenware with glaze
7 11/16 in x 8 7/16 in (19.5 cm x 21.5 cm)
Museum purchase for the Paul Leroy Grigaut Memorial Collection, made possible by a gift from Kamer Aga-Oglu and other Friends of the Museum

On Display

Not currently on display


Sancai, or tri-color glazed ware, was one of the most brilliant innovations of Tang dynasty (618–907) potters and the dramatic “peacock feather” design on this robust funerary jar demonstrates the expressive power of the glaze. By adding colorants to the lead glaze solution---copper oxide for green, iron oxide for amber and brown, antimony for bright yellow, and cobalt oxide (newly introduced from Persia) for blue---the basic “three-color” sancai palette was achieved. Glazes using lead as the fluxing medium are fluid and tend to run together, producing random splashes, dribbles, streaks and sometimes a muddy disaster. More often vivid colors and bold designs resulted.
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

sancai (三彩), literally three color, jar of the Tang dynasty (618–907). The dramatic “peacock feather” design on this robust funerary jar demonstrates the expressive power of sancai glaze. 
Sancai was one of the most brilliant innovations of Tang dynasty potters. Working with the same clay used to produce white wares, potters added iron, copper, and cobalt oxide colorants to create the typical three-color palette of cream, amber, olive green and cobalt blue. Sancai ware can contain any combination of just two to all four colors. Cobalt oxide was a new import from Persia and was a key component in the development of the three-colored glaze palette. Lead flux made it possible for these colored glazes to fuse to the earthenware body at relatively low kiln temperatures. It also allowed glazes to run, which made them very difficult to control, yet aesthetically appealing.
Sancai, flourished from around 680 to 750 under the patronage of the Tang elite for the production of tomb figurines and mingqi, “bright vessels”, or funerary pottery. After the domestic market collapsed, Chinese potters adopted new vessel types in a successful attempt to find overseas markets. Shards of these later wares have been found as far away as Sri Lanka, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia. Potters working as far away as Iran sought to replicate sancai wares using local materials.

Physical Description:

An earthenware globular jar with high wide shoulder, tapering to a narrow base. The jar hasa wide, short neck with everted rim, and the rim is covered in an amber glaze, the body covered in an amber, green, cream, and blue peacock-feather pattern, stopping short high above the base.

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